Dr. Strangelove is Back!

The Navy wants to electrify the Hill Country with 3000 square miles of buried antenna beaming through the earth to nuclear submarines.

By the end of this decade it is quite probable that Central Texas will be the electric heart of the nation’s number one defense communications system, an enormous underground radio transmitter covering somewhere between 1600 to 3200 square miles. It will be located approximately 60 miles northwest of Austin in the hill country around Lake LBJ. The Navy has given it the code designation Project Sanguine. Although 15 years and over $58 million have been spent on Sanguine to date, final plans for its construction have not yet been submitted to Congress.

Texas was not the only site considered for Sanguine, nor was it the Navy’s first choice. Originally the Navy wanted Sanguine built in the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, but opposition from the state’s leading environmentalists and politicians forced them to look elsewhere. On January 10, 1973, then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, a Wisconsin resident, directed the Navy to concentrate on Texas in their planning for Sanguine.

Sanguine would enable the Navy to send messages to its submerged missile-firing submarines. The Navy currently depends on a worldwide network of land stations which, it says, is marginally reliable at best and which cannot communicate with submarines unless their antennas are on or near the surface. Sanguine would have the unique ability to send messages from a single site in the United States. In addition the Navy claims that Sanguine’s signals could not be jammed and that its size and underground location would make it virtually bombproof. These features would, in the Navy’s view, insure the credibility of our nation’s nuclear deterrent system.

Sanguine will be used primarily to send the attack code to Polaris and Poseidon submarines in the event of a nuclear war when all other forms of communication have been bombed out or jammed. This short attack code would consist of an address in a strategy book, something like “Page 97.” Unable to send long detailed instructions, Sanguine would have to depend on predeveloped war strategies which could be carefully documented and updated, if necessary on a daily basis, by normal communication channels.

One drawback to Sanguine is that it will only provide for a slow one-way communication; it can send messages, but it cannot receive them. If Sanguine ordered a submarine commander to fire missiles bearing nuclear warheads, he would have no way of confirming that order unless ordinary communications were operational. If not, he would have to follow instructions and fire away. These limitations do not seem to disturb the Navy.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word “sanguine” as: 1) Of the color of blood; 2) Having the temperament and ruddy complexion formerly thought to be characteristic of a man dominated by this humor, passionate; 3) Eagerly optimistic, cheerful. While Sanguine may not be the most bloody cheerful project ever undertaken in the name of national defense, the Navy sees it as a necessity and argues that it will provide the best solution to the problem of communicating with nuclear submarines without requiring that they surface, thereby making themselves vulnerable to attack.

Sanguine will use the extremely low frequency ( ELF) range of the radio spectrum transmitting messages at 45 to 75 Hz (cycles per second). The broadcast range of AM radio stations is from 540 to 1600 thousand Hz; television stations broadcast at hundreds of millions of Hz. These higher radio frequencies can transmit a great deal of information in a very short amount of time, but they cannot penetrate water more than a few feet. ELF radio waves, such as Sanguine will use, can penetrate deep beneath the ocean’s surface and can be detected at great distances.

It is characteristic of low frequencies that they produce radio signals with long wave lengths. This poses a major technical problem for Sanguine because its broadcasting antenna, if it is to work well, must be a significant portion of one wave length. The high television frequencies have wave lengths a few feet long, so in their case a small compact antenna will do. For 45 Hz, a possible Sanguine frequency, one wave length measures 4140 miles. The antenna lengths considered for Sanguine, while many miles long, are still only a fraction of that distance.

However, the Navy asserts that “trade-offs between antenna size, antenna configuration and power requirements can be made.” It may take a relatively large amount of power to send a rather small amount of information, but the Navy believes that this inefficiency is acceptable “because once the signal is transmitted it loses very little strength and penetrates water well.”

Initial estimates of Sanguine’s size ranged from 10,000 to 22,500 square miles. These estimates have since been reduced, and Navy scientists are now speculating that the system need not be larger than 3200 square miles.

In a full-scale installation Sanguine would consist of a grid of antenna cables buried six feet underground parallel and crisscrossing each other to produce an omnidirectional signal pattern. The cables would be grounded at each end to provide an earth return circuit. Approximately 100 transmitters would be buried in hardened capsules 35 feet underground at the various points where the antenna cables intersect. Sanguine will beam its low frequency radio signals into the ionosphere, an electrically charged belt of gases 50 miles above the earth. The signals will then travel along the lower portion of the ionosphere dropping down bit by bit as they circle the earth.

The Navy still maintains that the Laurentian Shield bedrock of northern Wisconsin offers the best site for Sanguine because of its low conductivity and generally homogeneous structure. The Llano Uplift west of Austin has a similar subsurface geology. Both sites have a pre-Cambrian granite foundation which, because of its low electrical conductivity, makes the current flow in deep loops, several miles into the earth, to get from one end of an antenna cable to the other. This in turn allows for good transmission of Sanguine signals.

The power required to operate Sanguine will be purchased from local power companies, but there will also be a number of auxiliary generators


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